A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

by

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hank and King Arthur stay with the woman until she dies around midnight. Since the family died outside of the Church’s grace, they won’t get a Christian burial, so they leave the bodies in the house. Hearing footsteps, Hank and the king hide behind the hut. The woman’s three sons have come to tell their family that they’ve escaped but must run away immediately. As Hank and Arthur steal away from the hut, Arthur frets that the boys escaped justice and insists that they should bring them back to their lord.
The overreach of the Church into the lives of its subjects doesn’t end at death but follows them to the grave; having died on the wrong side of religious authority, the Church denies the family the rites they believe will allow them admittance to heaven. But despite the pathos of the woman’s story—and the clear evidence she presents that her sons were unjustly accused—Arthur can’t overcome his noble bias to image granting them mercy.
Themes
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Nature vs. Nurture  Theme Icon
Although Hank recognizes that King Arthur is a product of his upbringing, Arthur’s unjust beliefs still annoy him. The sight of fire in the distance silences their argument. It reminds Hank of his insurance business. Although the Church shut down his fire and life insurance products as “insolent attempt[s] to hinder the decrees of God,” his accident insurance is still going strong. Knights-errant live dangerous lives and are happy to buy policies for injury and accident. Hank and Arthur are making their way through a thick forest toward the fire when a flash of lightning illuminates a man’s body hanging from a tree.
The fire stops the nascent argument between Hank and Arthur over the injustice of laws that automatically and unthinkingly privilege the nobility. It also gives Hank an opportunity to brag about more of his 19th-century innovations. Yet again, the good that these innovations add to medieval society is questionable. They undoubtedly enrich Hank (helping him to extend his influence). But insurance doesn’t improve the safety or the lives of the knights-errant. Yet again, Hank’s innovations allow him to benefit from destruction.
Themes
New World vs. Old World  Theme Icon
Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
Hank and King Arthur pass six more bodies in the woods, as a once-distant murmur grows into the roar of a mob hunting down men and women in the forest. Near dawn, as the commotion dies down, they sneak toward the nearest village, stopping when they reach the humble cottage of a charcoal burner and his wife. There, King Arthur and Hank sleep until the afternoon.
The incident of the fire and the bodies in the forest baffles and alarms Hank and Arthur, men used to controlling their destinies. This foreshadows the events that will unfold out of their adventure in disguise as commoners, in which they will increasingly find themselves at the mercy of others.
Themes
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When Hank and King Arthur wake, the wife (later identified as Phyllis) details the previous night’s events. After dark, the manor house went up in flames. People rushed to rescue the family. They couldn’t find the lord in the house, although two yeomen died searching for him. His body, bound, gagged, and stabbed, was later found lying in the darkness beyond the house. Suspicion fell on a local family he’d recently mistreated, and the mob began to hunt down their friends and relations.
Hank’s casual renaming of the peasants provides another example of his assumption that the world belongs to him to remake. “Yeoman” is another (medieval) word for “freeman,” and the fact that even the freemen consider their lives less valuable than the lives of their masters shows the degree to which the feudal system has trained everyone to conform to the status quo.
Themes
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Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
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In the present, Phyllis’s husband (later identified as Marco) returns with more information. In addition to the two yeomen, 13 prisoners died in the fire, and the mob hanged or killed 18 other prisoners. Hank wants to know why the prisoners died. It didn’t occur to Marco or anyone else to release them, since they might have escaped. In fact, as Arthur points out, three of them did escape and should be caught and punished for murdering their lord. Hank steers the conversation in another direction. Meanwhile, he considers how quickly the commoners turned on one other at the behest of the lord’s family.
The deaths of the prisoners and innocent villagers in addition to the yeoman reinforces the idea that the lives of the non-noble classes are worthless and expendable. None of the rescuers even thought to release the prisoners, showing the degree to which they have been trained to support their noble masters. And this episode shows an important rift between Arthur and Hank. Both know that the smallpox victim’s sons are the perpetrators, but their divergent values make them each want to approach the situation differently.
Themes
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Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
The commoners’ instinctive willingness to turn on one other in ways that serve the interests of the aristocracy reminds Hank of the “poor whites” in the American south who sacrificed their lives to protect the interests of the slave-holding upper classes. Arthur interrupts Hank’s reverie, impatiently insisting that they pursue the murderers. To placate Arthur, Hank offers to show Marco the direction he thinks they murderers went.
Hank’s connection between the way that the powerful abuse and manipulate the powerless in the medieval world and in his own world suggests that some injustices transcend simplified divisions like “Old Order vs. New World.” The system’s ability to indoctrinate its participants means that Marco’s actions—however unwilling—will reinforce the status quo that Arthur wants to defend. 
Themes
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Superiority, Power, and Authority Theme Icon
But when they leave the house, Hank makes it clear he has no intention of helping anyone catch the “poor lads.” Marco is relieved, and he unburdens his soul to Hank, explaining that he participated in the mob because showing insufficient zeal for the cause would have brought him under suspicion. This whole affair has confirmed Hank’s desire to rid England of the monarchy as soon as he can.
Marco explains how the feudal system (or, by extension, any government) requires complicity for safety. He provides a sympathetic explanation of how the freemen can be induced to operate against their own best interests. Fed up with the injustice he sees, Hank reiterates his desire to overthrow the monarchy.
Themes
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Quotes